Miller Hull

San Ysidro Land Port of Entry

San Diego, CA
Designed to be the Port of the Future, SYLPOE is now a high-performing and dynamic doorway connecting two countries, cultures, communities, and economies.
Client U.S. General Services Administration
Certifications Phase 1 and Phase 3: LEED Platinum
Size 52 total acres
Completion 2019


During a time when the country’s talk revolved around walls, Miller Hull was focused on creating doors. In a multinational community bound together by economic, social, and environmental challenges and aspirations, the Land Port of Entry in San Ysidro is the unifying point – the node through which these populations conjoin and connect.

The San Ysidro Land Port of Entry (SYLPOE) is the busiest land port in the Western Hemisphere. Located on the U.S.-Mexico border between San Diego and Tijuana, the port processes 8% of all people entering the United States, and creates a welcoming and safe point of arrival that reflects the two cultures of these neighboring cities.

Built starting in the late 1800s, the original port was outdated and dark. It was not particularly welcoming to pedestrians, lacked adequate security, and did little to efficiently guide the in- and outflux of traffic. In essence, it was an access point as opposed to the celebrated gateway that it could and should be. Additionally, post-9/11 inspection protocols rendered the Port’s systems obsolete, and increasing traffic challenges called for a reconfiguration of the Port’s campus. As a portal from one country to another, enabling the flow of people and the endurance of commerce, SYLPOE needed to be overhauled.

Soon, it would become a safe and welcoming point of arrival while also redefining the standards of security, energy performance, and water conservation for border checkpoints and their environments.

Set forth by GSA, the goals of the project were to: 1) incorporate the latest in security and antiterrorism enhancements, 2) improve vehicular and pedestrian processing, 3) improve operational efficiency, 4) provide greater officer and public safety, 5) decrease operational and maintenance costs, and 6) improve the traveler’s experience. Working with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Miller Hull embarked on a redesign of the entire Port facility, demonstrating the importance this day in age of becoming a leader in operational inspections and safety measures.

Extending far beyond the physical boundaries of the 52-acre campus, the redesign strengthens the cross-border community in myriad ways. For one, it makes it easier and faster for individuals to go from one country to the other. Each 15-minute increase in vehicle wait-time costs the local economy $1 billion in productivity and 134,000 jobs, annually. The new SYLPOE’s inspection procedures reduce wait-times from over two hours to under 30 minutes, resulting in economic boosts, traveler stress relief, and a dramatic reduction in vehicular emissions.

Transforming the pedestrian experience was just as important as altering that of the vehicles, and while the previous Port funneled all travelers toward one pinch-point, the new master plan divides the pedestrian inspection between the east and west, decreasing the travel distance for the 25,000 daily pedestrians by over half a mile. Circulation routes now include shading elements with photovoltaics, seating, drinking fountains, restrooms, and landscaped plazas where people can rest, orient themselves, and prepare for the next leg of their journey. Because of the physical height of the canopy pylons, the port has become an icon within the landscape – a symbol of movement and alliance visible from afar on both sides of the border.

Environmental impacts are also taken into consideration. Located in San Diego’s coastal desert climate, the Port’s site typically experiences variable annual precipitation and is thus prone to drought, wildfire, and periodic flooding. Xeriscaping, native trees and grasses, and greywater irrigation were used extensively on site to help allay these inconsistencies. In order to mitigate its impact on the ecosystem and community, the project decreases water demands and increases the natural hydrologic responses of the site through restorative landscape that includes drought tolerant plants, water efficient fixtures, and low-impact stormwater design. Inclusion of infiltrative landscape into the former 98% impervious cover of the site was critical. Additionally, 232 acres of rainwater lands on adjacent off-site hills surrounding the project, and then passes through the site on its way to the Pacific Ocean via the Tijuana River.

Due to the Port’s operational and security requirements, energy and water consumption is high. Much of the program occurs outdoors in a predominantly sunny and warm climate where weather and daylight offer benefits and challenges to performance and comfort. But the new SYLPOE was designed to set the standard for “the port of the future” through the design of a facility that was not only environmentally gentle but generous. By optimizing performance, increasing safety, and establishing new standards for sustainability, the redesign demonstrates the possible coexistence of high performance and high-use in a building typology that was previously seen as more infrastructural than experiential. The new facility is a minimum 50-year building that must support the needs of upwards of 100,000 daily visitors, including hundreds of federal employees and 24/7/365 operation.

Our team also developed several unique solutions to remedy the hot carbon-monoxide filled environment such as double-stacked inspection booths for faster vehicle processing and ETFE pillows at all inspection canopies that function as skylights to provide shade and glare control, ensuring optimal lighting at day and night, and contributing to healthy and humane means of crossing the border.

As the front door to the United States, however, more was needed in this project than infrastructural and vehicular improvements. It was critical to create an inviting and dynamic experience – a welcome contrast to the stress and anxiety often experienced by both the in- and outbound travelers. On the Port Operations building, a subtly changing pattern of terracotta panels combined with a bold, blue fiber cement panel rain screen float above the precast base of the building, granting a repetitive, yet playful rhythm of materials. In the screen of the parking garage’s façade – a horizontal metal panel system which allows for open-air ventilation, visual seclusion, and shade – a band of graphic symbols offers a visual interpretation of the site, and providers historical context to all who pass through. These projects were part of a state-wide public art program sponsored by the GSA that includes a number of other stand-alone pieces as well as works integrated into the buildings.

Employees are also given a respite from the demands of their roles; a courtyard between buildings was developed to provide shaded solitude for officers, while the surrounding concrete walls emit a soothing fragrance of jasmine and other native plants. This security and comfort afforded to the officers and workers are the foundation for an environment of mutual respect between them and the traveling public.

By successfully redefining security, durability and performance, the new San Ysidro Land Port of Entry has been converted from a place that could easily be foreboding and security-focused into one that is akin to an airport, where travelers are treated as clients. This humanity-focused approach sets a modern standard for future border checkpoints across the United States and beyond.

Project Team

Master Plan & Design Architect: The Miller Hull Partnership, LLP
Contractor: Hensel Phelps and Atkinson/Clark Construction
Civil & Structural Engineer: Magnusson Klemencic Associates
Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing Engineer: Interface Engineering, Inc.
Security Engineer: Interface Engineering, Inc.
Landscape Architect: AECOM Design & Planning
LEED/Sustainability: O’Brien & Company
Signage & Graphics: Mayer/Reed